When you’ve been a leader in producing HDPE drainage pipe for three decades and are looking to expand, moving into an altogether new business might not be the first thing that comes to mind.
But that was indeed the somewhat unconventional tack taken with the recent startup of Ideal Polymer Solutions Inc., Thorndale, Ont. Ideal Polymer Solutions is a processor of HDPE sheet and parent company of Ideal Pipe, which since 1979 has been producing HDPE corrugated and solid-wall pipe for applications ranging from agricultural, commercial, residential, recreational, and highway drainage to urban storm-water management systems.
Ideal Polymer earlier this year opened a 90,000 ft² plant within walking distance of the Ideal Pipe plant built by its founder, Gerald W. Clarke. Clarke began his career as a contractor, installing millions of meters of municipal and farm drainage pipe across Southwestern Ontario. He got the idea to make his own pipe once he recognized the need for higher quality products. He also figured that making the pipe close to market would give him a competitive advantage.
Today, both companies are still family owned. Gerald’s son, Randy Clarke, has carried on his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, acting as president and running the companies with his brothers. Together, the two Ideal companies employ about 100, but Randy Clarke expects to add 20 more within the year for the new sheet business.
MAKE INSTEAD OF BUY
For years, the younger Clarke had been fabricating pipe ends, a process by which black HDPE sheet is welded to pipe. Clarke bought HDPE sheet for this requirement. But, because of his knowledge of HDPE extrusion machinery, processing, and materials, he asked himself a simple question: “Why am I purchasing HDPE sheet when I can make it myself?”
Randy Clarke elaborates, “We were able to add a new sheet business as a direct result of the expertise we developed in producing pipe for more than 30 years. We know all about the material and the suppliers, we know all about the machinery, so we asked ourselves if there was anything else we can make. Sheet was the answer.”
Ideal conducted further market research and concluded that “HDPE sheet was truly a commodity product that is utilized in diverse markets,” Clarke says. “Therefore, we figured investing in the machinery would be a good opportunity for the Ideal business. Since we were entering new markets selling sheet to new customers, we figured that the best approach to take was to start a business.”
Ideal Polymer had some customers already lined up: Some of its Ideal Pipe clients in the agricultural market purchase sheet for greenhouses, livestock pen liners, etc. But that is just one of several end-market opportunities that Ideal Polymer is targeting. Others include food handling, commercial cutting boards, and lining of food bins/hoppers; concrete forms for the construction industry; general consumer uses like hockey boards, table tops, wash bays, snowboard rails, and lawn furniture; transportation uses for snowplows, truck-bed liners, and dunnage dividers; and general industrial markets, where Ideal Polymer is selling sheet to fabricators.